If one thinks about energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, typical candidates come to mind, like traffic, electricity generation and so on. However, also the information and communication technology is a player in this field.
First, you might only think about charging your mobile phone or the electricity that your computer needs. However, the total energy consumption does not only include the use of electronic devices, but also their production. Additionally, when accessing for example the internet, there is a large infrastructure which also needs electricity. 300 Google searches need about as much electricity as boiling one liter of water.
Currently, approximately 3000 TWh of electricity are used globally per year for communication and information technology. That corresponds approximately to the power of 300 large power plants running day and night. Approximately one third of this electricity is used to charge and operate mobile phones, while a little less is needed for data centers and networks. However, this is expected to increase significantly in the future.
In the worst case, information and communications technology will need up to 50% of the electricity and be responsible for one fourth of the greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. While more likely are 10 to 15% of the greenhouse gas emissions, which is still approximately as much as traffic.
What does that mean for us? We should use wherever possible renewable energies, especially for operating the data centers. Furthermore, we should try to reduce the power consumption, by using new energy-efficient technologies which we are doing research on at the moment, but also by adjusting our very own behavior.
D. MacKay, Sustainable Energy – without the hot air (www.withouthotair.com)
UN Report: https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/reports
IPCC Report: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-cycle/
Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction by Mark Maslin
More Data: https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/
L. Belkhir et al., J. Clean. Prod. 177, 448 (2018)
A. Andrae et al., Challenges 6, 117 (2015)